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Where the Renaissance Was Born, It Lives Still

Articles

Where the Renaissance Was Born, It Lives Still

Tara dos Santos

 

The historic centre of Florence, Italy, where the Savio Firmino workshop opened in 1941 and continues operations to this day.   Photography by Alinari, Fratelli

 

Cosimo Savio’s childhood in Florence was suffused with an artistic and artisanal spirit he says has endured since Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci walked the city’s streets. 

He remembers his sense of wonder walking through his father’s workshop — the smell of woodwork, the focus of the artisans as they bent over their workbenches, the old masters teaching their young apprentices. 

Cosimo Savio has grown up with a strong appreciation for family values, Florentine artisanal traditions, and a love of high-quality furniture and decor — all foundational elements of his family’s company, Savio Firmino.  Photo by Armando D’Alessandro

“It is an atmosphere of great awareness of doing a work of art,” Cosimo Savio says. He is the third-generation owner of Savio Firmino, a luxury Italian furniture company. “Even the youngest worker coming to the factory... is proud of it, because it is like an artist. It’s not just something to earn the wage, but is patience and knowledge.”

Similarly, Cosimo’s work at the company has been so much more than a career; it’s been an intimate part of his whole life. 

He has grown up with the strong, Italian family values that allow companies like this one to endure. He has been surrounded his whole life by furniture and decor crafted with tremendous care — for him, it is natural to have a home filled with treasured objects. He has lived the Florentine artisanal traditions.

In Florence, it isn’t just Savio Firmino that takes this masterful approach to its work, Cosimo says. The leatherworkers, the sculptors, and many others are all part of this pervading culture. Growing naturally out of this environment is what makes Savio Firmino authentic and not a contrived effort to revive a dead past. 

“When I explain, maybe it sounds like something from a museum, but in Florence it is alive,” Cosimo says. “This atmosphere is made by young people, by people who really live their work, who live the connections between people — it is something like a cultural scene.”

Family values and perseverance

Cosimo’s grandfather, Firmino Savio, started the company in 1941 at a difficult time in Italy’s history; it had become clear that Italy would be on the losing side of WWII. “He was a very hard worker,” Cosimo says of his grandfather, whom he never met, but about whom he has heard much.

“Nobody really knows what came in my grandfather’s mind to start a business in such a difficult time,” he says. “But I think that love of the family and the need to give a better future to the family moved him. This is the base of many Italian family companies.”

The family bond and cherished legacy are what help a company endure through wartime, peacetime, or any time, Cosimo says. “We never want to lose the roots with the family. This can sometimes slow the growth of a company, but in the rainy days, it helps to move forward.”

He currently runs the business with his brother, Gregorio; his cousin, Michela; his uncle, Amadeo; and his father, Guido.

Guido Savio took over the business at the age of 18 when Firmino Savio died. He was a young man for such great responsibility. “The good thing of my father, which I hope I am going to take, is he never gives up,” Cosimo says. “No matter, whatever sunny days or rainy days, he doesn’t fly too high, he doesn’t go depressed.” 

To produce the intricately carved details on its furniture, Savio Firmino often uses wood from a special kind of pine tree that grows in the Alps, called cirmolo in Italian. This wood is very solid but also easy to carve.  Photo courtesy of Savio Firmino

Photo courtesy of Savio Firmino

Guido not only ran the business, he also learned the craft of furniture-making and upheld the highest dedication to quality established right from the company’s genesis. “My father is really passionate about art — antique art, Renaissance art,” Cosimo says. “When I was a child and we were travelling, the first thing we would do is check the best museums.”

Savio Firmino was itself founded in the historic centre of Florence — where the Renaissance was born — and its workshop remains there today. The Renaissance aesthetic and dedication to masterful art are still strong in Florence, Cosimo says. 

The Renaissance traditions live in the young artisans of Savio Firmino’s workshop. “Here we are talking about artisans, not artists,” he says. “But here in Florence, this difference is very slight. There is a thin line between artist and artisan.

The way of Michelangelo to be Michelangelo or Leonardo da Vinci to be Leonardo da Vinci is exactly the same as these young people are having now.”

Like those great artists of the past, these young artisans are learning from masters, creating beautiful and superlative works. “Some among them will truly be artists,” Cosimo says.

Guido’s designs are informed by the principles of harmony and lines he learned through his study of classic art, Cosimo says.
While Guido’s brother, Amadeo, eventually got involved and took charge of the business side, Guido remained the artistic soul of the company. Every design is his. The prototype for every piece is made by his hand. 

One of Cosimo’s favourite pieces of all time is a table his father designed in the shape of a tree. In many ways, this tree has stuck out in Cosimo’s mind as symbolic of the company.

Cosimo Savio’s favourite piece ever made by Savio Firmino is a table base in the shape of a tree. His father — the artist behind all of Savio Firmino’s furniture — surmounted great technical difficulties to make this twisting shape out of solid wood. Photo courtesy of Savio Firmino

Photo courtesy of Savio Firmino

 Savio Firmino’s most iconic piece, Bed 1696, features the company’s signature ribbon-and-roses motif along the edge of the headboard.  Photo courtesy of Savio Firmino

Deep roots and gilded crowns

For a company that works with wood, the tree is a fitting symbol, Cosimo says. “Deep roots and long life, this is what I hope the company will always represent.”

When his father designed this table in the 1970s, it was unlike anything being made at the time. “It was revolutionary,” Cosimo says. 

It was very difficult to make. Although it looks like it was carved from a single piece of wood, its twisting shape and branches necessitated the use of multiple pieces of solid wood. It was difficult to make this look like a seamless piece, and it also required technical ingenuity to make the structure perfectly balanced. The way the trunk meanders off to one side could easily make the table unbalanced. But his father skilfully surmounted these challenges.

The company’s most iconic piece is Bed 1696, with its white, cushioned headboard framed by roses and ribbons carved out of wood. The design started with an idea from Cosimo’s sister, Costanza, when she was a girl. 

The carved ribbons are gilded, a process Cosimo says is the most magical part of all that happens in his father’s workshop. 

“The way of applying gold on wood is extremely ancient. It comes from the ancient Egyptian time,” he says. Though it is ancient, it is certainly not primitive. “It requires super skilful people, super patient workers, and of course, you are managing gold — so you are managing something expensive and precious. So either you know exactly what you are doing with the material you are using, or you are going to waste money, material, products, and everything.”

During the process of gilding, the artisan works with 23k gold pressed into a very thin leaf. The artisan cuts the leaf with a knife to fit the area being gilded. The gold leaf is carefully placed on the wood, which has been brushed with water to help the gold stick, and it is rubbed with cotton. After it is left to dry for about a day, the artisan rubs it with agate, a type of rock known for its fine grain, which makes the gold shine.

Most companies today don’t use real gold, they use a fake gold or paint, Cosimo says,“[But] we are still using the real gold leaf.”

Another endeavor that sets Savio Firmino apart from most other furniture companies is its creation of luxury furniture for children. When Guido became a grandfather, he was inspired to create the nursery collection Notte Fatata, which translates as “Night Fairy.”

“It came out of the joy and happiness for my niece, Viola,” Cosimo says. It wasn’t about making a new furniture line to sell for business interests, he says, “It was much more the happiness of my father to become a grandfather for the first time.” 

The line has, nonetheless, been commercially successful. George Clooney is among the celebrities who have furnished their children’s nurseries with Notte Fatata. “Everything with passion behind it has success,” Cosimo says. 

 
The way of applying gold on wood is extremely ancient. It comes from the ancient Egyptian time.
 

The next generation

Cosimo’s own children — an 8-month-old and a 3-year-old — have been cradled and nurtured by Notte Fatata. Its pieces embody the wonder and imagination of childhood. It’s like the furniture and decor have entered the nursery directly from a bedtime story. 

A train bed looks ready to enter dreamland; a castle bed makes for an enchanted night and a playful day; lamps in the shape of hot-air balloons set an airy, magical mood. 

 

At the age of 18, Guido Savio took over the Savio Firmino business his father had started. He has watched it grow with the family over the decades — he now runs it with his sons, his brother, and his niece.  Photo courtesy of Savio Firmino

 

Cosimo’s children will literally experience quality and style right from the cradle. They will also experience the traditions of Florence the way Cosimo has. Yet, when they inherit the company, it will have stretched its branches further out into the world. 

Cosimo’s wife is Chinese; they met while Cosimo was working in Beijing, where the company has established a strong presence. Cosimo’s father first went to Beijing in 1997, as part of an exhibition organized by the Italian government to display Italy’s finest products. In terms of quality, Savio Firmino was placed on par with Ferrari and similarly prestigious brands at the exhibition. 

Notte Fatata, which translates as “Night Fairy,” is a luxury children’s furniture line produced by Savio Firmino.  Photo courtesy of Savio Firmino

One of the greatest benefits Cosimo’s generation has brought to the company, he says, is a youthful vigor in networking. He and his siblings and cousins have strengthened the company’s presence abroad, spreading the beauty of Florentine craftsmanship widely. 

Even as the family and business expand beyond Italy, Savio Firmino will stay true to its Florentine roots, Cosimo says. “[People] want something that is authentic, that gives an authentic energy. That is why we keep our own Florentine heritage, even if we are going all over the world and our family extends outside of Italy.”

Text by Tara dos Santos